My wife and I have an amazing ability to kill plants. Whatever the opposite of being green-fingered is – that’s us. Knowing our limitations, we bought ourselves a cactus. It could survive the desert, but it didn’t last more than a month in our house. So what’s the secret to keeping plants healthy and growing? As you know, it’s not all about one thing. There are several factors needed for healthy, growing plants – sunlight, good soil, the right amount of water.
It’s the same with churches. What makes for a healthy, growing church? Several things. Luke lists some of them at the start of our passage this morning. He describes how the early church ‘devoted themselves to the apostles teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer’ (v42). These factors get repeated often in Acts, and in the rest of the New Testament. The message is clear – these things are essential for healthy, growing churches.
I like eggs. I eat eggs quite a lot. But I know that they are high in cholesterol. So I asked my brother-in-law, who’s a doctor, if he thought I might have high cholesterol. He said as long as I stayed off the cookies, I was probably healthy.
But the only way to be sure is to have my cholesterol checked.
We might think our church is probably healthy. But the only way to be sure is to check it against what God says makes for a healthy church.
Luke gives us these four checks. Each one could be a sermon in its own right, so here’s what we’re going to do. We’re going to focus on being devoted to the fellowship and the breaking of bread, because that’s what Luke spends most of his time talking about in this passage.
When we read about ‘the breaking of bread’, we naturally think ‘communion’. That’s partly right. What Luke is talking about includes communion, but it’s much broader than that. Just look down at v46 – ‘they broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts’. That’s talking about eating meals together.
So this morning we’re going to put ‘the breaking of bread’ in with ‘fellowship’.
After all, eating meals together is one way of enjoying fellowship. Fellowship literally means ‘sharing’, and in the Bible it means sharing our lives with each other. And as we think about fellowship, we’ll see two principles that are essential for healthy, growing churches.
Firstly, be devoted to each other.
Listen again to v44 and v46: ‘All the believers were together and had everything in common…Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together.’
When we read that, we tend to notice the bit about having everything in common. We’ll come to that in a minute.
But doesn’t something else strike you about this description of the early Christians? They were together a lot!
Every day they met together in the temple, and in their homes. Every day they ate together. Now that is very interesting.
Here is a church that is growing rapidly. V47 tells us that ‘the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved’.
When we think of church growth, we normally think of things we ought to do with outsiders.
You want to grow your church? Go out and pick up litter, go out and visit the Care Homes. Go out and make an impact for Jesus in your community. There’s nothing wrong with that.
But according to God’s word, if we want a growing church, our first responsibility is not to go out there and do stuff. It’s to be in here. It’s to be together with God’s people.
Why should that be? When he taught about mission, Jesus put it like this: ‘A city on a hill cannot be hidden’. Scattered in the community, our light is dim.
Gathered as church, our light shines so much brighter. In the Bible, evangelism is mainly a corporate activity. Something we do together.
So if you want St Michael’s to be a healthy, growing church, your first responsibility is to be together. A lot.
Are you? Do you share your lives with the Christians sitting around you now?
Do you have them round for food? Do you pray in each other’s houses? Do you make it your top priority to see them and encourage them here every Sunday, and at midweek Home Groups?
But being devoted to each other means more than just being together a lot. It also means loving each other radically. ‘All the believers were together and had everything in common. Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need.’ (v44-45) Our normal reaction to this is to say, that’s a bit extreme. It’s important to note that this isn’t communism.
No one is forced to sell their stuff. And we know that most Christians kept their own homes, because v46 tells us that’s where they met.
Still, this is radical love for other Christians. But here’s the thing. Imagine if this wasn’t a description of church life, but of a biological family. All the family were together and had everything in common. They sold their stuff if any of the family were in need. They met together a lot and ate together regularly.
Crazy? Communist? Not at all. That just sounds like a healthy family, right? So if you would do this for your biological family, why not for your eternal Christian family?
Francis Chan is a Christian pastor with a young family. He and his family chose to downsize their house. Not because they had too much room; they didn’t.
But because they could then give more money to Christians in need.
Or how about a church here in Essex? When a young couple from the church couldn’t afford to get on the housing ladder, friends from church clubbed together to pay their deposit. Normal behaviour in our biological families. Why not in our eternal church family?
Jesus said, ‘By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another’ (Jn 13:35). When he said that, this is the kind of love he meant. Being kind to other Christians isn’t enough. Lots of people are kind to each other. But radical, family love for other Christians will get us noticed.
Jesus said it would, and the early church proved him right. Do you want to be a healthy, growing church? Be devoted to each other. Don’t worry about whether everyone else will join in. You start, and see what happens.
Secondly, be visible to outsiders.
Here’s v46 again: ‘every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts’. This church was visible to outsiders. They hung out together in the temple courts, surrounded by non-Christians.
We don’t have temple courts, but that doesn’t matter. The principle is the same – we want the church to be visible to outsiders. Why?
Imagine you want to buy a new car. You could just read about it from the press releases and online reviews. But wouldn’t you also want to see it in action?
We can tell non-Christians about the difference Jesus makes to our lives.
But don’t we also want to show them the difference in action? How can we do that?
The best way is to invite people to come to church with you. That way, your friends get to hear the Bible read and taught, and they get to see a big group of Christians together, being devoted to each other like a family. Maybe you’re sitting there thinking, you obviously don’t know my friends.
My friends would never come to church.
Let me say two things in response. Firstly, are you sure they won’t come to church? When did you last ask them? I think we’ve bought into this idea that everyone is terrified of stepping over the church threshold. I’m sure that’s true for some people. I seriously doubt it’s true for most.
Think about it. What brought you to church for the first time?
I bet for a good number of you, you came because someone brought you. A friend, or a family member. Why not do the same for somebody else? Think now: who could you ask to come with you next Sunday?
Secondly, for those who really won’t come to church, take church to them.
That sounds hard, but it needn’t be. All it means is getting groups of Christians and non-Christians together.
So why not ask some Christian friends and some non-Christian friends round for dinner together? Or the next time you’re taking the children to the park, see if others want to join you?
This doesn’t have to mean putting extra dates in your busy diaries. Just include others, Christian and non-Christian, in things you have to do anyway. Like shopping, exercising, or eating.
If you do that, your friends are getting to see Christians together. They are getting to see Christians acting like family, being devoted to each other.
They are getting to see some of the difference Jesus makes. That’s unique.
That’s attractive. No wonder ‘the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved’.
Be devoted to each other.
Be visible to outsiders.
But what if the devotion we see here feels beyond you, just too big an ask? Don’t worry. It is beyond you. It’s beyond all of us to muster up this kind of devotion in ourselves. The power for devotion like this doesn’t come from somewhere deep inside of you. Instead, our devotion emerges naturally as we see more of Jesus’ devotion to us.
That’s how it worked for the early church. They heard Peter’s sermon about the saving love of Jesus for rebels like them. As the Spirit brought that word home to them, he drew out from them devotion to Jesus and to each other.
It works the same way for us. If you want to be more devoted, don’t focus on your devotion. Focus on Jesus’ devotion to you. Read of it again in the Scriptures. Thank God for it in prayer. Enjoy it afresh. Let it warm your heart. Start there, and let Jesus’ devotion to you draw out of you devotion to him and to others. And as that takes root in our church and is seen by outsiders, may the Lord add to our number daily those whom he is saving.